A personal journey through sound.

Mountaintop Insect Ambience

Posted: October 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, nature recording

Sierra Buttes, California: Less than 9,000' high, but the tallest thing around...with active insect soundscapes!

The thing that strikes me the most about recording at high altitude is the quiet. Sounds that get masked by wind, rustling leaves of trees, traffic, and other sources become extremely articulate. Unless there are birds nearby, this usually means that insects are what comes to the ears most clearly.

Atop a California mountain on a sunny summer day, I came upon a patch of blooming buckwheat that was being visited by bees and other insects. The trees were pretty far away, but cicadas were singing loudly, and the wind was pretty still. I set down my recorder and walked away for about 20 minutes to bag a nearby peak.

The killer moment in this otherwise quite ambient snippet is right near the end, when a huge, fat something buzzed right past the mics. I’m assuming it’s a type of bee, but with such a deep, rumbling sound, it sounds like a cartoon or a parody of an insect sound, like something out of A Bug’s Life, as opposed to a real creature. Since I walked away during the recording, I’ll never know!

[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/5760409″ params=”show_comments=true&auto_play=false&color=ee0000″ width=”100%” height=”81″ ]
[Sony PCM-D50 field recorder]

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Posted: September 4th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: field recording
Note to self: Don't melt microphone.

Note to self: Don't melt microphone.

There is something so primal about fire. Everyone I know considers just sitting and watching/listening to a campfire burn is better than television, and can be done for hours, pleasurably, in silence.

Of course, when I get excited, ideas like physics kind of go out the window, like the whole heat-rising thing…nothing got damaged, but in retrospect a lower position would have allowed the recorder to get closer. I am sure the makers of the Zoom H2 didn’t intend to have its plastic case survive high temperatures.

I recorded the sound of my campfire while backpacking California’s Sierra National Forest and the John Muir Wilderness on a nice, still evening. This particular campfire had a log that made some, uh, gassy emissions, and sounded very much like a milk foamer on an espresso machine. You’ll hear it about halfway through the clip.

Campfire by noisejockey
[Zoom H2 recorder, 120°-spread rear stereo pair]

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Posted: August 27th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, found sound objects, sound design
I'm pretty sure this paddleboat was not intended for wilderness exploration.

I'm pretty sure this paddleboat was not intended for wilderness exploration.

Before embarking on mountainous backpacking trips, I like to acclimate to the altitude for a day with some light activity. On a recent, trip, my girlfriend and I wanted to do some lake kayaking. Sadly, the sole outfitter in the region didn’t bring their kayaks that season…when offered a paddleboat instead, we shrugged, thought it was incredibly silly, and said, “Sure!”

The next thing we knew, we were out for four hours in this damn thing. We paddled halfway across an alpine lake, and fought 10-knot wind on the return trip in a craft with the hydrodynamics of a brick. The only way we survived was to sustain ourselves by playing Ghost and Twenty Questions like we were eight years old. From those plastic bucket seats, my ass was complaining for days afterwards.

It was a silly, weird, and fun…and oddly mechanical-sounding. There was this constant thrumming that sounded really regular and sustained for a muscle-powered vehicle. Early in the day there was no wind or chop, so I managed to get several minutes’ worth of clean recordings from this thing. It could easily be processed just a little and recontextualized as a mechanical texture for some device or ambience.

I almost didn’t bring my Zoom H2 on this trip, but I’m sure glad I did. I’ll have more examples from this trip in future posts. (Technical note: Dropping six rechargeable batteries at once into a cold mountain stream does not improve battery life.)

Oh, and photos from my trip can be viewed online if you’d like.

Paddleboat by noisejockey
[Zoom H2 recorder, 120°-spread rear stereo pair]

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